US energy secretary issues exit memo

10 January 2017

The USA must ensure continued implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, as well as taking an economy-wide approach to decarbonisation - including a reinvigoration of the nuclear energy option, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in his formal roundup of US Department of Energy (DOE) achievements during the administration of President Barack Obama.

"During the eight years of the Obama Administration, DOE has delivered on its mission. The results have included dramatic growth in clean energy jobs, vital progress on securing and diminishing the amount of nuclear material globally, and major scientific and technological discoveries," the DOE's Cabinet Exit Memo, released on 5 January, states.

Accelerating threats from climate change have made it more urgent to reduce costs and increase deployment of advanced clean energy technologies, Moniz noted. As well as seeing growth in installed solar and wind capacity, Moniz pointed to the first US reactor start-up in decades - TVA's Watts Bar 2 began commercial operation in October last year - and nuclear new build projects. A total of four Westinghouse AP1000s are under construction at Vogtle in Georgia and VC Summer in South Carolina. The DOE made available loan guarantees to Southern Company's Vogtle 3 and 4 that are to begin operations in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

The memo called for further action on "reinvigorating" the nuclear energy option through the deployment of advanced reactors and small modular reactors, as well as implementing consent-based consolidated storage and geologic repositories.

Nuclear security

The DOE responded to goals set by Obama in 2009 to secure vulnerable nuclear material and reduce the US nuclear stockpile. Over the past eight years the DOE, working with international partners, has completed removal or disposition of more than 4000 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium from 16 countries plus Taiwan, Moniz wrote.

The threat of Iranian nuclear weapons development has been addressed through the JCPOA - the agreement signed in July 2015 by Iran and the E3/EU+3 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the USA - also referred to as the P5+1 - plus the European Union) and implemented in January 2016.

"Reaching the agreement required a unique integration of science and diplomacy," Moniz wrote. Under its terms, Iran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment activities, eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium and limit its stockpile of low-enriched uranium over the next 15 years. The agreement also provides for indefinite monitoring and verification, and rules out critical weaponization activity in Iran, Moniz said. Future actions should be taken to continue, he said, the implementation of the Iran nuclear agreement, including the extensive monitoring and verification measures.

In conclusion, Moniz said he had been "especially privileged" to lead the DOE during the Obama administration, because of the "very high priority" placed by the president on clean energy and climate change, science and innovation, and nuclear security. "This set of priorities defines the core of DOE's responsibilities and opportunities for enduring service to the nation," Moniz said. "The 'business' of the Department of Energy has major consequences for America's future. I expect that the next and future Administrations and Congresses will sustain its success in addressing science, energy, security and environmental opportunities for generations of Americans."

Moniz was sworn in as Energy Secretary in May 2013, succeeding Stephen Chu. US President-elect Donald Trump last November announced former Texas governor Rick Perry as his intended nomination for the role of Energy Secretary. The DOE is one of the 15 executive departments whose heads form the US Cabinet. Presidential nominees to those positions must be approved by the US Senate.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News